Hubble Space Telescope finds six dead galaxies, even as expert says ‘at this point all galaxies should be forming lots of stars’

  • They ran out of cold hydrogen gas needed to make stars when the universe was roughly 3 billion years old 
  • This is considered the ‘most prolific period of star birth’ in universe’s history 
  • Scientists are not sure why they ran out of cold hydrogen 11 billion years ago, leaving them to speculate 
  • The discovery was made by the Hubble in conjunction with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, which had its 31st anniversary earlier this year, has found six dead galaxies in deep space in a remarkable discovery.

The galaxies ran out of cold hydrogen gas needed to make stars when the universe was roughly 3 billion years old, considered the ‘most prolific period of star birth in its history,’ according to a statement from the U.S. space agency.

The six galaxies are known as MRG-M1341, MRG-M0138, MRG-M2129, MRG-M0150, MRG-M0454 and MRG-M1423. 

Six dead galaxies have been in deep space, roughly 11 billion light-years away. The six galaxies are known as MRG-M1341 (pictured top left and right), MRG-M0138, MRG-M2129 (pictured bottom left and right), MRG-M0150, MRG-M0454 and MRG-M1423

The discovery was made by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope (pictured), in conjunction with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile

The discovery was made in conjunction with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. 

‘At this point in our universe, all galaxies should be forming lots of stars. It’s the peak epoch of star formation,’ Kate Whitaker, a University of Massachusetts, Amherst assistant professor of astronomy and the study’s lead author, said in the statement.

‘So what happened to all the cold gas in these galaxies so early on?’ 

For now, scientists are not sure why the galaxies ran out of the gas 11 billion years ago, leaving them to speculate. 

‘Did a supermassive black hole in the galaxy’s center turn on and heat up all the gas? If so, the gas could still be there, but now it’s hot,’ Whitaker added. 

‘Or it could have been expelled and now it’s being prevented from accreting back onto the galaxy.’  

Whitaker continued: ‘Or did the galaxy just use it all up, and the supply is cut off? These are some of the open questions that we’ll continue to explore with new observations down the road.’ 

WHAT IS GRAVITATIONAL LENSING?

Gravitational lensing occurs when a massive galaxy or cluster of galaxies bend the light emitted from a more distant galaxy.

This forms a highly magnified, though much distorted image.

This is because massive objects bend the spacetime around them, making light travel in a different path.

This theory was first proposed by Einstein in his theory of General Relativity. 

It’s likely these galaxies will never rejuvenate, even if other galaxies merge with other small galaxies nearby.

By absorbing other galaxies, it ‘puffs up’ the dead galaxies and if for some reason, they do start to create new stars, it is akin to ‘a kind of frosting,’ Whitaker added.

Despite the lack of star formation, these galaxies are believed to have evolved and grow.

The galaxies were studied as part of the Resolving QUIEscent Magnified Galaxies At High Redshift (REQUIEM) program, which looks at distant galaxies that appear red in color. 

A technique known as ‘gravitational lensing’ was applied to find the galaxies, Whitaker said.

‘By using strong gravitational lensing as a natural telescope, we can find the distant, most massive, and first galaxies to shut down their star formation,’ Whitaker explained.

‘I like to think about it like doing science of the 2030s or 40s – with powerful next-generation space telescopes – but today instead by combining the capabilities of Hubble and ALMA, which are boosted by strong lensing.’

The study has been published in the scientific journal Nature. 

The universe is widely believed to be roughly 14 billion years old, based on the Hubble Constant of 70

The universe is widely believed to be roughly 14 billion years old, based on the Hubble Constant of 70.

In 2019, scientists in a separate study suggested that the Hubble Constant is 82.4, which would make the universe around 11.4 billion years old.  

NASAs Hubble Space Telescope is still working and has made more than 1.3 million observations since its mission began in 1990

The Hubble telescope was launched on April 24, 1990, via the space shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

It is named after famed astronomer Edwin Hubble who was born in Missouri in 1889.

He is arguably most famous for discovering that the universe is expanding and the rate at which is does so – now coined the Hubble constant. 

The Hubble telescope is named after famed astronomer Edwin Hubble who was born in Missouri in 1889 (pictured)

Hubble has made more than 1.3 million observations since its mission began in 1990 and helped publish more than 15,000 scientific papers.

It orbits Earth at a speed of about 17,000mph (27,300kph) in low Earth orbit at about 340 miles in altitude.

Hubble has the pointing accuracy of .007 arc seconds, which is like being able to shine a laser beam focused on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s head on a dime roughly 200 miles (320km) away.

The Hubble telescope is named after Edwin Hubble who was responsible for coming up with the Hubble constant and is one of the greatest astronomers of all-time

Hubble’s primary mirror is 2.4 meters (7 feet, 10.5 inches) across and in total is 13.3 meters (43.5 feet) long – the length of a large school bus.

Hubble’s launch and deployment in April 1990 marked the most significant advance in astronomy since Galileo’s telescope. 

Thanks to five servicing missions and more than 25 years of operation, our view of the universe and our place within it has never been the same. 

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